Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why Mobs Are Not the Answer

The horrific story from Aurora, Colorado in recent days about the slaughter of innocents in a movie theater kept me somewhat glued to live cable news this week.

One of the fascinating things about our modern telecom-connected world is that we can get people's instantaneous reactions telecast, YouTubed, FaceBooked and tweeted as they happen. No waiting for any investigation or careful reflection. We are bombarded with raw emotions and knee-jerk judgments. But I am afraid that it is just such instant overload that threatens to bury us in reactionism and mob rule. Fortunately, none of the rhetoric over this event has led to any rioting.

But take the other recent tragedy, the shooting death of young Trayvon Martin. There was reaction to the partial news that an African-American youth had been shot by a "white man", George Zimmerman, and he had not been taken into custody. Much of the information that began to come out turned out to be either incomplete or just plain false. The resulting emotional frenzy could have led to a lot of further violence and even now, the actual facts are somewhat shrouded. A jury is going to have to decide.

I mention these news events, not to take a position on them, but to lament the loss of the spiritual disciplines in the Christian community. So often, we are just as guilty as the general public in taking a stand based on emotionalism and reactionism, rather than on careful meditative reflection.

We, of all people, should understand how the mob mentality can result in the crucifixion of an innocent victim. Jesus' accusers used just such manipulation to whip the crowds into a frenzied chorus of "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

And we know that the Apostle Paul also experienced mob frenzy more than once. In Philippi, he and Silas were flogged and thrown in prison after the idol-making guild whipped the crowds into a frenzy and accused them of sedition (see Acts 16: 19-24). In Thessalonica, because Paul was somewhat successful in persuading some of the Jews, others whipped up a mob and started a riot to expel them (Acts 17: 5-9). These same agitators followed them to Berea and tried to repeat the experience (17: 13). Another such event occurred in Ephesus in 19: 23-41 when the silversmiths felt threatened by Paul. Finally, Paul needed to be rescued from the crowd that was stirred up at the Temple in 21:27-22:22.

The mob is seldom right in its judgement. It latches on to "factoids" that may or may not be true. And most of the time, even if the fact is true, it is incomplete. Founding father, John Adams, felt it his duty to provide an adequate defense to the British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre. He was able to obtain acquittals for six soldiers and reduced sentences for the two convicted of manslaughter. He counted this as one of the highest services he ever gave to his countrymen, even though it would potentially appear that he was siding with the British against the colonialists. "Judgment of death against those soldiers would have been as foul a stain upon this country as the execution of the Quakers and witches anciently. As the evidence was, the verdict of the jury was exactly right" (John Adams, on the anniversary of the massacre).

Let us determine to be part of the solution, not the problem. Allow the legal system to do its job. After all, God has given the authority to judge to governments (Rom. 13: 1-7). It is not wrong of us to ask our representative democracy to serve us properly. But let us not become like the mob who cried, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Taking an Eye Exam

Have you ever had one of those weeks where it seems that everything that can break or wear out, does? I had one of those weeks last week. And of course when things wear out or break down, it costs money. And when that happens, I begin to obsess over my finances and my peace goes out the window.

"In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same, and your years will never end" (Psalm 102: 25-27).

Those of us who are Christians should know better than to place our confidence in material things. We need to develop a perspective on life that sees beyond the physical and takes into account the spiritual. And that should mean that we live life with one eye on what is in the here-and-now, but always with one on the yet-to-come.

Jesus encouraged this in the Sermon on the Mount:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven..." (Matt. 6: 19-20a).

The material "stuff" of this life can be deceptive. It promises to make us feel secure; it promises to make us happy; it promises to raise our self-esteem. "If I can just save up enough for my retirement, then I'll feel secure." "If I can only get that new car, I will be happy." "If I can make enough money, I'll be successful."

Now don't get me wrong. I am not advocating taking a vow of poverty. In fact, I believe in receiving material blessings from God with thanksgiving and enjoying them like a child receiving a birthday present.

But we must be aware that our "stuff" comes with a warning label.

Jesus says: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6: 21). He links our affection to our eyes. If we are preoccupied with material things, then our eyes are not clear. Why? Because we "cannot serve both God and Money [Mammon]" (vs. 24b). In other words, affection for "stuff" blocks our vision of the things of God.

Paul says to Timothy: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Tim. 6: 10).

And the writer of Hebrews adds: "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because he has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'" (Heb. 13: 5).

And it is at those times that our possessions begin to wear out and break down that our hearts are tested. Are we placing our trust in God or in things? Are we so preoccupied with our "stuff" that our vision is clouded?

So the next time something breaks, think of it as a divine eye exam. How's your vision doing?